Northern Ireland

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Information gathering system raises confidentiality fears

Doctors have warned of the need to maintain patient confidentiality as health bosses propose bringing in a new information gathering system.

padlockMaking use of health and social care information about the care patients receive will help to understand the health needs of everyone in Northern Ireland, health, social services and public safety minister Edwin Poots has said.

He has launched a consultation about the use of patient information for secondary purposes, including identifiable data in certain, controlled circumstances.

He said: ’The health and social care sector in Northern Ireland may share and use patient information, outside the provision of direct care, provided the individual’s identity remains protected. However, these current arrangements have limitations.’

Mr Poots said enabling identifiable information to be used in limited and controlled circumstances could assist in identifying patterns in diseases, responses to different treatments, and the effectiveness of different services.

Tom BlackOpt-out route

He said this could ultimately lead to economic benefits through improving the overall health and well-being of the population of Northern Ireland.

However, BMA Northern Ireland GPs committee chair Tom Black (pictured right) warned of the need to maintain patient confidentiality. He said it must be easy for patients to opt out of such a system.

‘Patient consent is vital if we are to maintain confidence,’ he said.

‘Records should only be accessed on the basis of need and there should be a routine governance audit cycle to ensure that confidentiality hasn't been breached.

‘The system also needs to be careful about using collated anonymised data and this also needs a defined governance structure and clinical oversight.’

 Read the consultation

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